Written Constitution as Rules for Guidance of the Wise?

I’ve been pretty clear that I’m against a written constitution and for greater emphasis on building trust in our politicians, political systems and institutions. (Sumption explained at length his recommendation against.)

Listening to Rory Stewart interviewed last night, he makes precisely the opposite recommendation – that we should be concerned about lost trust and should look to a written constitution to protect ourselves. I should say I’m am big fan of his practical wisdom and the fact that he is single-handedly raising the bar on common sense, trust and decency, so I’m interested in this difference of opinion.

[Aside: Some great stuff in there on the rhetorical value of less than objective truth. Also love his stick-and-string bow-and-arrow metaphor to explain middle-ground politics. See also – Smaller parliament (both houses), more local / specific people’s assemblies, attention, engagement, fatuous “foreign” promises based on little real local knowledge or skin in the game, etc ….]

Perhaps I should restate my problem with a written constitution and recommendations of how to address the trust issue.

Initially I’ll digress to the Labour Party and it’s recent “educational” materials on how members and staff should recognise and avoid anti-semitic racism. It is truly excellent that this move acknowledges the problem and the need to address it – admits existing / previous error – BUT I’m terrified it will be massaged and interpreted to become a set of rules of linguistic behaviour, and will therefore be gamed by those with inherent racist motives. (Look at the ancient BBC Radio example on offensive language to see the absurdity.)

My position here is that less is more. Rules should be framed as guidance of the wise (rather than the enslavement of fools). A few high-level principles, a few key do’s and don’ts and existential rules for institutions and roles, but any attempt to legislate entirely objectively for every eventuality, is doomed to failure, and gaming exceptions will simply become the norm. Even with rules, we need trust in wise interpretation by those with our skin in the game. We must give and receive, create and conserve, trust too.

[Rhetorical Rules of Engagement.]

“Where are the strong?
And, who are the trusted?
What’s so funny ’bout
Peace, love and understanding.”


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